A friend of mine is preaching her first sermon tomorrow morning. Woo hoo!
Tonight I wanted to wish her well, in words of encouragement that caught both the weight of responsibility that comes with this calling, and the lightness you can access when you remember you’re part of something so much bigger than your own performance. Thinking of what to write to her reminded me of this puritan prayer.
When I was a student and preached at Roskill Baptist, years ago, the minister there kindly shared this 400ish-year-old prayer with me. He regularly prayed it in his study before preaching, and I took on the practice too.
I’ve also prayed it aloud with congregations before preaching, sort of letting them overhear my prayer for the sermon. The ‘slothful audience’ line usually gets a muffled giggle.
The unnamed puritan preacher who wrote this is living in a time, place and culture that are all pretty different from mine. But I feel a sense of comradeship in these lines. I, too, ‘go weak and needy to my task,’ and need to be reminded not to be proud. And I often choke up when I get to the lines near the end:
‘help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer’
This preacher knows the importance of the task, and pays attention to the role of the preacher, the congregation, and God, in joining together in the event of preaching.
It inspires me every time I pray it, and I offer it to you to share around, as it was generously shared with me.
My Master God
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertinent to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to people’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and to set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached,
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that people might be made holy.
I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.
[You can find this prayer and others like it in The Valley of Vision: a collection of Puritan Prayers, Arthur Bennett (ed) 1988, Banner of Truth.]
So Cheryl, all the very best for tomorrow. May you feel the weight and the lightness, and may the Holy Spirit speak to the people through your preaching.
The rest of you, I’d be interested to hear which lines resonate most with you – or surprise you, or whatever… Leave us a comment with your response, yeah?
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On the subject of preaching, you may also want to check out these posts: